_The Camping World Truck Series returns to action next Thursday night at Kentucky Speedway for the UNOH 225. Just nine races in, the top 5 in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings find themselves separated by just 40 points. But how have those top 5 drivers fared so far this season?_
*Stats:* Nine starts, one pole, two top 5s, five top 10s, one DNF
Cole Whitt currently holds a commanding 22 point lead in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year Standings and has certainly shown promise this season. Piloting the No. 60 Red Bull Chevrolet, Whitt has led 65 laps over four races. Though he missed the field at Daytona, the young driver hopped behind the wheel of Shane Sieg’s No. 93 and finished a respectable 14th. His lone DNF came during the series’ most recent race at Texas Motor Speedway. He currently sits second in the Truck Series standings. The 20-year-old also has one start in the Nationwide Series at Charlotte where he started 14th and finished 15th, one lap down.
*Will he win this season?* Yes. It’s only a matter of time before this young driver adds his name to the list of rookie winners in the Truck Series.
*Stats:* Nine starts, two top 5s, four top 10s
Though the rookie points leader is well out in front of the field, Joey Coulter holds a slim two-point margin over third place. Thanks to a pair of back-to-back top-5 finishes, Coulter has moved inside the top 10 in the standings. Just a few short weeks ago, the 21-year-old driver showed he’s got some talent when he raced with Kyle Busch for the final spot inside the top 5 for several laps before forcing the issue and taking the position on the white flag lap.
*Will he win this season?* Yes. Fellow RCR driver Austin Dillon won twice during his rookie season, and Coulter is poised to do the same.
*Stats:* Nine starts, one top 5, three top 10s
After starting off the season with mediocre performance–15th at Daytona, 32nd at Phoneix–Parker Kligerman has slowly shown progression. Two of his three top-10 finishes came in the last three races, and that includes his impressive runner-up finish at Texas in mid-June. Piloting the No. 29 Penske Truck Rental Dodge for Brad Keselowski Racing, Kligerman has shown his ability to learn from each race and turn that into progress on the track.
*Will he win this season?* Yes. Though he hasn’t led a lap this season, Kligerman has shown he will take risks on the track to grab his first Truck Series victory.
*Nelson Piquet, Jr.*
*Stats:* Nine starts, one top 5, two top 10s
In just five races last season, Nelson Piquet, Jr. scored three top-10 finishes, but in the nine races he’s run so far during the 2011 season, he has just two. Having been the victim of three DNFs– a blown engine at Daytona and crashes at Darlington and Dover–the 25-year-old driver finds himself 14th in the standings, ten points behind Brendan Gaughan in tenth. Despite his DNFs, Piquet, Jr. has run up front, leading five laps at Texas Motor Speedway.
*Will he win this season?* Maybe. Despite completing all but two laps in the five races he ran last season, Piquet, Jr. has already racked up three DNFs and a 30th-place finish at Martinsville where he was 43 laps behind the leader. However, with the improvement he’s made and the moves I’ve seen on the track, there’s still a chance he’ll see victory lane this season.
*Stats:* nine races, one top 5, two top 10s
Last season, Miquel Paludo scored a pair of ninth-place finishes–one with Germain Racing and one with Red Horse Racing–and this season, he and Red Horse Racing teamed up in hopes of making a run for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year title. After starting off with a solid fourth-place finish at Daytona, the driver of the No. 7 Toyota has finished outside the top 20 in five of the last eight races, including two DNFs. He’s led 16 laps so far this season at three tracks–Martinsville, Kansas and Texas where he led ten–and thanks to an eight-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway a few weeks ago, Paludo jumped four spots and now sits 19th in the standings.
*Will he win this season?* Maybe. While he has scored a couple of top-10 finishes, Paludo still has two DNFs and a total of four finishes outside the top 20. It’ll take more consistency than that if he expects to visit victory lane this season.
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This year’s rookie class is by far one of the most competitive the Truck Series has seen in a while. While Cole Whitt appears to be running away with the Rookie of the Year title, there are plenty of other drivers competing this year that look to be close to their first visit to victory lane. Where they end up in NASCAR beyond this season is up to them and their performance on track.
*Rookie News: Craig Goess, Eddie Sharp Racing Part Ways*
Following an 18th-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway, Craig Goess and Eddie Sharp Racing parted ways. Goess joined ESR in 2008 and had significant success in the ARCA Racing Series before heading to the Truck Series for the 2011 season. Having recorded a single top-10 finish this season–ninth at Nashville–Goess has moved on from ESR thanks in large part to a lack of chemistry on the team.
“It’s a really unfortunate circumstance for all of us at Eddie Sharp Racing and for the Goess family. We’ve had a long standing relationship together,” team owner Eddie Sharp said. “Craig and his parents have become like family to me, so it’s that much more difficult to see them go in a different direction.”
Justin Lofton has been tabbed to drive for ESR for the remainder of the 2011 season after reaching an agreement with Germain Racing to leave that team’s No. 77 truck and reunite with the team he won the 2009 ARCA Racing Series championship with.
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